Bowseason: Tracking and Trailing

This is the seventh part of a 12 part series covering my time spent with a Kansas Whitetail outfitter during his entire bow season.

As a hunter, I take certain ‘terms’ sometimes too seriously. For example, when people see the deep impression of a pair of buck hooves in soft mud and they refer to them as ‘footprints,’ it drives me nuts. When it comes to the difference between tracking and trailing, I expect a good hunter and outdoorsman to know the difference just as he would know the difference between a rub and scrape.

While hanging out at this outfitter’s operation and getting to take part in every single shot follow up, I found it fascinating to see the different skill sets of various people when it came to trailing and tracking. Since we were following up on archery shots, blood trailing was the skill de jour. Tracking was also called for, and I found that more people can trail blood than track an animal. 

As the oaks littered the ground with their golden, discarded leaves, the chances of seeing blood actually improved with the lighter-than-blood carpeting seeming to highlight blood droplets. It amazed me that ‘great’ trailers could not identify the tell-tale marks of where deer hooves made their way through the slightly disturbed and up-turned ground litter. The outfitter had a great routine that he had obviously honed over the years to great success. He would look for blood as well as he could, but he would not get hung up on not finding the next blood, so he would look for tracks and follow those to anticipate where the next blood would be found.

I soon discovered that he was actually tracking the animal the entire time while using blood to verify his tracking job. So essentially, he was acting like a trailer, but he was really tracking the entire time. It was quite impressive.

Another memorable experience was watching newbies and beginners learn both skills. I watched one young hunter frozen in one place for a half hour looking for the next drop of blood that he thought had to be near the most recent droplet. It was amusing watching him learn how to trust his gut and look ahead a little more each and every moment. I thought I was an above average tracker and trailer, but compared to this outfitter, I was average at best. 

Tracking and trailing are invaluable skills that we all must improve upon. If I could go back in time, I would beg every friend and outfitter I know to include me on their follow ups and if you want to improve your skills, you should too.